Costuming for Theatre Takes Time, Research and Talent.
Photography: Dev Khalsa
Michelle Minailo-Jefferson's background as both a seamstress and longtime theatre performer lends an authenticity to St. Thomas' theatrical productions.
Working tirelessly behind the scenes, two local costume designers—Michele Minailo-Jefferson and Gloria McCray, the latter known affectionately as Winkie—have enabled audiences time and again to suspend a sense of reality and indulge imagination through the magic of their expertise. Their talents and considerable inventory of costumes routinely transform the performers in local dramatic productions, dance recitals and Shakespeare festivals.
Minailo-Jefferson came to the Wood River Valley with a background in theatre. She grew up in Calgary—dancing, singing, and acting with The Young Canadians. She also studied sewing, tailoring and pattern rendering. Her profession took her to Las Vegas in the 1970s as a principal dancer with the Casino de Paris, where she met and later assisted the lead costume designer. The 1980s found her in New York City, performing in television and film and onstage. By 1995, she had moved to Los Angeles, pursuing a career in television. It was there she really became involved with wardrobe, working at the Burbank Costume Guild.
Upon arriving in the Wood River Valley, she immediately became involved with local dance and theatre, teaching dance, choreographing performances and designing costumes for Footlight Dance Centre. In addition, as she choreographed performances for The Community School, she lent a hand “to tweak a costume or a prop here and there.” She now designs the costumes for the St. Thomas Playhouse theatrical productions, and for the past couple of years has assisted Winkie McCray with the Shakespeare Festival and Renaissance Faire. “There’s a lot of theatre here. We all support each other,” she explains.
McCray agrees, “I work with Michele on plays at St. Thomas.” McCray has been involved in costume design in the Valley for a long time. She has been designing costumes here, she realized recently, for almost 25 years. She is self-taught. It was a logical development. “I love the theatre. I have always loved sewing. I didn’t want the costumes in local productions to look like those in high school plays.”
Then she adds, “And it’s fun!”
In addition to designing costumes for the Shakespeare Festival and The Community School plays, she also designs costumes for Laughing Stock Theatre Company, New Theatre Company and ballets. Her costumes are most visible, however, when the Renaissance Faire takes place each summer and a plethora of characters straight from Merry Olde England mingle with the modern tourists and locals in the meadows of Sun Valley and the streets of Ketchum. Indeed, one of her greatest contributions to local theatre is her extensive collection of Renaissance clothing.
Besides that collection, the theatre community has an incredible collection of ball gowns, including gowns by designers such as Ralph Lauren and Valentino which were generously donated.
McCray defines the part costuming plays in a production: “It helps bring out the character. Actors often say to me, ‘now I feel like my character,’ the first time they put their costume on.”
“Of course, the director has the last word,” McCray emphasizes, adding that dress rehearsal can be terrifying for her since it’s a fashion parade of the cast for the director. And the most gratifying? “Opening night! Seeing a production take on a life of its own!”